Philippe Coutinho took another big step in his development this season, adding the vitally important end product to his game. In previous seasons, the little Brazilian was fantastic setting up chances for his teammates and being a creative outlet in link up play, but this year he was able to add goals to his game. In over 38 appearances in all competitions, Coutinho racked up an impressive 12 goals and seven assists. Although he is still plagued by inconsistency over the course of a long season, Coutinho has become the Reds’ attacking talisman. He is vital to the side and with rumors emerging of a £45m bid from PSG, it is imperative that Jürgen Klopp is able to keep the Brazilian on Merseyside.
In prior seasons, Coutinho was a tremendous player but one that lacked the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Occasionally he would deliver the third-yard stunner, but he was far less influential in the box as he was when directing play from a deeper position. This season, the Brazilian was able to become a player that could not only direct from deep and hit the long distance goal, but he was much more effective in the 18-yard box, creating chances and scoring for himself. This alteration in his game led to career highs in goals and assists that could have even been higher if he was not out for almost two months with a hamstring injury in the middle of the season. Coutinho scored three more domestic goals this year than in 2014-15 despite playing almost 800 fewer minutes on the pitch. In comparison to Manchester City talisman David Silva who recorded only two goals but eleven assists, Coutinho’s numbers are comparable to a player that is widely lauded as perhaps the best number ten in England. Silva is still a superior passer to Coutinho at this point in their respective careers—the Spaniard averaged 0.5 more key passes per game and his passing accuracy was about 4% higher—but Coutinho’s ability to score goals and threaten defenses with his dribbling is superior. In addition, the Brazilian’s shot accuracy was over 20% higher than Silva’s even though he averaged almost three more shots per game. Coutinho has a tendency to fire numerous shots at goal so it is understandable that he averaged more than Silva in this category, but Coutinho’s accuracy is also far superior albeit slightly lower than what it should. In terms of his effectiveness with the ball at his feet, averaged 1.8 dribbles per match, better than Silva’s mark of 1.2. Additionally, the Brazilian was dispossessed fewer times than Silva, at only 1.9 times per match compared to Silva’s 2.1. Coutinho is truly dynamic when attacking opposing defenses with his smooth dribbling skills. His ability to weave through defenses and open up scoring opportunities for teammates is so important to his side and is virtually unmatched in the premier league. Almost every Liverpool attack goes through Coutinho due to his excellent ability to pick out the perfect pass while evading opposing defenders with his pace and trickery.
For Coutinho to reach his full potential in Klopp’s gegenpressing machine, the Brazilian needs to improve his pressing and tackling. Coutinho is never short of energy in closing down defenders but his ability to recover possession needs to improve. Coutinho only averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per match while making 127 recoveries. For comparison, teammate Adam Lallana, who excels at operating the press, averaged 2 tackles and 0.6 interceptions, but also recorded 23 more recoveries. Lallana is perfect for the press in that he is able to close down passing angles and put himself in position to regain possession with an astute tactical awareness. This is an area that Coutinho can learn from Lallana as both players are rather diminutive in stature and are not extremely physical, yet Lallana is able to consistently win back the ball. Lallana is always willing to jostle with defenders for possession—he attempted 60 more duels than Coutinho in almost the same amount of minutes in the league this season—whereas Coutinho often avoids physical confrontations. Obviously, Lallana and Coutinho have two very different roles in Klopp’s system and both are able to fulfill what is asked of them, but if Coutinho can improve the defensive side of his game and work to increase the number of times he is able to win back the ball for his side, the Brazilian can increase the impact he has in all facets of the match.
As Liverpool’s winner of the player of the year trophy the last two seasons, it is clear that Coutinho is a vital part of the Reds’ future. Unfortunately, rumors are continuing to swirl that PSG may be interested in a potential transfer while Brazil teammate Dani Alves continues to stir the pot about Coutinho moving to Barcelona. Thankfully, there are no indications that Coutinho has any intentions of departing Anfield, but as his meteoric ascension continues, the big clubs are only going to continue circling around Liverpool’s little magician. It is imperative that Klopp is able to keep his main man at Anfield, as he is the most important player in the squad and he still has room to improve. As a result, it becomes all the more important that Liverpool is able to attain a Champions League spot this season. Without UCL football to offer, keeping Coutinho will become all the more difficult when the biggest clubs in the world can offer consistent Champions League participation and trophies. Now that the Reds have a tremendous manager at the helm, fulfilling Coutinho’s ambitions should not be the challenge it was under Rodgers. Coutinho has gradually improved his game each season on Merseyside, and if he is able to take yet another step forward, finishing in the top four and winning a cup is a very realistic goal for this season. If the Reds want to keep the Brazilian over the long term, achieving this goal may be a requirement.